New England governors call on Donald Trump to repeal Canadian aluminum tariff

"Canada and New England share more than just a border."

President Donald Trump is greeted by New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu as he arrives for a campaign rally at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, Friday Aug. 28, 2020 in Londonderry, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
President Donald Trump is greeted by New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu as he arrives for a campaign rally last month at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in Londonderry, New Hampshire. –Charles Krupa / AP

President Donald Trump is facing pushback from three New England governors — including two fellow Republicans — over his decision last month to reimpose aluminum tariffs on Canada.

Trump said at the time that the 10 percent tax on imported Canadian aluminum is “absolutely necessary to defend our aluminum industry.”

But in a letter Tuesday to the Republican president, Maine Gov. Janet Mills, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said it will have the opposite effect — particularly at a time when many businesses are already facing challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These tariffs are unnecessary and inappropriate to which there will be negative consequences, one of which is the artificial inflation of costs to aluminum goods to consumers and suppliers,” the three governors wrote, effectively siding with Canada in the trade dispute.

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“New England depends on bi-lateral trade with Canada,” they said.

The bipartisan trio called on Trump to repeal the tariff, expressing concerns that its ripple effects through New England industry would make everything “from a F-35 jet to a washing machine to a can of beer more expensive.”

“New England and Canada build things together,” the governors wrote, adding that “about half of all trade with Canada takes place between our related companies.”

“The rising costs will add to the challenges already facing most business sectors during these challenging times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” they added. “We strongly believe that this stance regarding Canadian aluminum will only hurt American manufacturers.”

Politically, the letter is a particularly rare move for Sununu, a second-term Republican and infrequent Trump critic (it was also sent on the same day as New Hampshire’s state primary election, in which Sununu easily fended off a conservative activist for the GOP nomination). Mills, who is a Democrat, and Scott, a moderate Republican, have been been much more willing to speak out against the president.

The aluminum tariff — first imposed in 2018 and then lifted last year as part of a recently renegotiated North American free trade deal — was reinstated by the Trump administration on Aug. 16.

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During a rally in Ohio earlier that month, Trump cited rising levels of Canadian aluminum imports since the original tariff was lifted, accusing the United States’ northern ally of breaking its commitment to “not flood our country with exports and kill all our aluminum jobs.”

Trump argued that American businesses were being “decimated by Canada,” which is the world’s fourth-largest aluminum producer.

“Very unfair to our jobs and our great aluminum workers,” Trump said during the Ohio rally.

The move was opposed by the Canadian government, which reluctantly imposed “dollar-for-dollar” tariffs on American aluminum in response.

“In the time of a global pandemic and an economic crisis, the last thing Canadian and American workers need is new tariffs that will raise costs for manufacturers and consumers, impede the free flow of trade, and hurt provincial and state economies,” Chrystia Freeland, the country’s deputy prime minister, said in a statement.

And in their letter Tuesday, the governors of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont agreed with that perspective, writing that officials should “look at solutions to elevate commerce” for both countries rather than “penalize key industries.”

“Canada and New England share more than just a border,” Mills, Sununu, and Scott wrote. “We are allies, business partners, colleagues, and family. The important trade that we have shared throughout our history has formed co-dependent and mutually beneficial bonds that need to stay intact for us to all succeed in this partnership.”

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